Being the most published and produced playwright in human history, William Shakespeare is no stranger to Hollywood. The Bard's plays have been gracing the silver screen since the two minute 1899 silent rendition of King John. Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, is taking a bite from the Shakespearean mince pie and revamping the classic love story, Romeo and Juliet.
Less than two decades after Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes sucked face in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, we’re preparing ourselves for a second onslaught of rom-traj (romantic tragedy). Surely Mr. Fellowes’ talents could be better used on one of Shakespeare’s less pervasive plays. True, there have been hits: West Side Story, Shakespeare In Love… The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride. But there have been a fair number of misses, and we’d hate to see Fellowes’ exquisite resume besmirched with a Romeo Must Die-style 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes for lack of originality.
In that light, here are six all-too-often overlooked Shakespeare plays far more deserving of the Fellowes touch, with a few production suggestions from yours truly.
Antony and Cleopatra
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are a tough act to follow, but this epic rom-traj is nevertheless itching for a modern Hollywood remake. Can you imagine the costumes? Fellowes could just spray paint everything gold and be done with it. The Good Wife’s Archie Panjabi would make an excellent Queen of the Nile, and maybe Gerard Butler as her brooding Roman lover?
I’m inceasingly surprised that more filmmakers haven’t taken on Shakespeare’s most gripping play. Billy Morrissette’s 2001 Scotland, Pa., a low-budget but endearing retelling, was delightful in its kitschy 1970s suburban Pennsylvania setting, but “the Scottish Play” is calling out for a by-the-book remake. Fellowes specializes in tales of intrigue set in British castles—recreating Cawdor and Dunsinane would be a cinch! I’m thinking Tom Hardy as the mentally ravaged Thane of Glamis and maybe Fellowes’ friend and colleague Michelle Dockery as his beguiling Lady.
Sure, Lear has made its fair share of appearances through genre-bending adaptations, but a play as titanic and definitively Shakespearean deserves a head-on retelling, don’t you think? Donald Sutherland is certainly regal enough to take on the role of Lear, King of Britain; and why not Keira Knightly as the headstrong Cordelia? Helena Bonham Carter and Minnie Driver would thrive as the deliciously treacherous Goneril and Regan.
The Taming of the Shrew
A precursor to the romantic comedy, Taming was introduced to current twenty-somethings in a big way with 1999’s unforgettable 10 Things I Hate About You. But surely a play as clever and irreverent deserves a canon refrain. I, for one, would love to see Emma Watson reprise her Hermione-esque bookish hardheadedness as the strong-willed Katharina. Elle Fanning’s wide-eyed, delicate beauty is perfect for lovelorn Bianca, and Eddie Redmayne as Katharina’s devilishly handsome suitor Petruchio.
What with the wonderful instruments of Avatar-esque CGI at our fingertips, The Tempest is begging for a remake. New Zealand’s undulating terrain and beautiful scenery would make for a visually enthralling Prospero’s island, and perhaps Jeremy Irons could be persuaded to take on the roll of the stranded sorcerer from which the island takes its name. Idris Elba would make for a formidable Caliban, Gemma Arterton an exquisite Miranda, and Joanne Froggat (another Downton alumna) a flighty and demure Ariel.
The Winter’s Tale
As films like 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s the Man have shown, audiences love Shakespeare retold as high school allegory. The Winter’s Tale, with its scrumptious combination of slapstick, love, and betrayal is ripe for such an adaptation. Leontes (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Polixenes (Dave Franco) could play combative golden boys from rival schools, pining for the affections of the dazzling Hermione (Shailene Woodley). The story would have to be retooled to accommodate Florizel (Josh Hutcherson) and Perdita (Lily Collins) as classmates, not heirs apparent—but stranger changes have been made to the Bard’s work. Anyone remember Gnomeo and Juliet?
Credit: Wikipedia Commons